For the majority of my life, NASCAR was about as meaningful to me as Christmas is in Israel.
I didn’t get it, didn’t want to, and didn’t need to.
This seemed to be a common theme amongst my peers. I couldn’t even conceive the desire that drove hundreds of thousands of fans, fueled solely off beer and cigarettes, to these grandiose tracks.
It turns out, if I may digress, that I was wrong. They also drink whisky.
Understanding is met early by experience. For all my criticisms, for all my jokes, I had never actually beheld the phenomenon known as NASCAR.
So I went to learn more Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway for NASCAR’s Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Auto racing, believe it or not, is much like baseball. It’s more about the spectacle than the actual event. In fact, the event becomes merely a part of the spectacle when all is said and done.
Many baseball fans go to a three-hour, nine-inning baseball game to relax amongst friends and have a beer or two.
In reality, the biggest difference between the two sports, is that in NASCAR you always have something to watch: A driver pits, crashes, turns left.
OK, so I can’t say every part of it will enthrall you.
But neither do pitching changes nor replay challenges, for that matter.
And the tailgate? Well that’s a city in itself, filled with RV’s and cars as far as the eye can see. By the looks of it, one might think they’ve stumbled into a refugee camp instead of a NASCAR race.
But I suppose the ultimate question is after 312 miles, did I come out a NASCAR fan?
No, not really.
I’m an honest journalist: This would be an easier column if I did say ‘yes’ and listed yet another quality the sport has to offer. But I’m not a fan and never, more than likely, will be.
It’s not because I was left regretting the experience. I will go to the next NASCAR event here in the spring and hopefully many more around the nation throughout my life.
But I’ll never be able to root for the drivers or take stake in the actual races. And I’d still rather watch billiards on ESPN than NASCAR on FOX.
What I did gain was a sincere and deep appreciation for the sport of NASCAR. I’m sure you can name plenty of people who’d go with you to any variety of games without truly being fans of the sport.
That’s me and NASCAR.
The most beautiful thing about sports is that you don’t have to understand them, love them, or even care about them to truly enjoy the experience of being in the crowd, the stadium or the parking lot outside of it.
So yes, Mr. Jimmy Johnson fan, I will go with you to that race next Sunday.
Just bring your own whisky.
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